Chris Paisley admits he was starting to turn into one of golf’s plodders. But a conscious effort to graft over the winter weeks, work relentlessly and alter his mindset to believe he could push himself into the elite, is starting to pay off.
We’re barely a month into 2018 but already Paisley has emerged from relative obscurity to put himself on the map. At 31, some would say it’s about time.
His renewed approach has already yielded results for Paisley, who’s begun 2018 in blistering form. He won his maiden European Tour title – almost nine years after turning pro and five years after joining the tour – when he beat home favourite Branden Grace at the South Africa Open on January 14.
That was followed by tied fifth place at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, his Middle East swing completed by a fine solo fifth finish at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.
To survive in professional golf, you clearly have to know how to and be good at swinging a few clubs. But Paisley readily admits he may have allowed himself to coast over the course of his early years in the game, since becoming a professional in 2009.
“Without realising it, yeah, I think I definitely became comfortable with just being the guy who keeps his card every year,” the Englishman tells Sport360.
“That’s not what I would set out the year to be but I think in my mind, once I’d secured my card, I’d relax a little bit, definitely, and then generally my performances dipped.
“So this year I made a conscious effort of setting really high goals. Look at Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, they get on a roll and take off, so I thought ‘why can’t I give that a go?’ and my mindset is now geared more towards that than just keeping my card.
“It led me to practicing that bit better and harder and it’s definitely paid off.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve had sporadic good results in the past, a third place, but I’ve never put a run together like this and it’s amazing. It’s a run of form I’ve seen other players do, and I’ve thought ‘how do you do that?’, so for me to play that level of golf is really nice.”
Tellingly, it’s jettisoned him into the top-100 for the first time in his career. And with his game and form on the rise, so too are his ambitions.
The Ryder Cup takes place in eight months’ time and Paisley is, almost implausibly, poised to be involved.
The Northumberland native is only just outside the eight automatic slots to make captain Thomas Bjorn’s team as it stands. On the Ryder Cup World Points list he sits 10th.
Right now, Justin Rose, Hatton, Ross Fisher and Matthew Fitzpatrick would qualify via European Points standings, with Jon Rahm, Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and McIlroy the four others, not on the initial list, making the cut via World Points.
Paisley is less than a point off Ireland’s Paul Dunne, in ninth, and he admits it’s time to start dreaming.
“The Ryder Cup will start to come into the thinking,” admits an ambitious Paisley.
“It’s funny to think about it because before these three weeks it wasn’t on my radar or anyone else’s radar. Nobody’s thinking about Chris Paisley getting to the Ryder Cup, but why not.
“There’s still a long way to go and you’ve got to keep up really good form for the rest of the season, but why not. Let’s do it.
“I’ve got a sniff. I’m getting into WGCs (World Golf Championships) now and majors, all those big events. It’s down to me, keep doing what I’m doing and improve, playing really positive golf. If I can do that, you never know.”
Although he may be in the Ryder Cup picture, Paisley insists he won’t let the thought consume him, like it did compatriot Fitzpatrick two years ago.
Fitzpatrick, who only turned 22 weeks before the tournament, at Hazeltine in Minnesota, had been in contention following two eye-catching years after going pro in 2014. He won the 2015 British Masters but was struggling for form leading up to the Ryder Cup, before victory at the Nordea Masters in June of 2016 secured his spot.
“It’s not something I can worry about,” said Paisley.
“I spoke to Matt Fitzpatrick about the Ryder Cup and he said it kind of consumed his thoughts and he struggled that Ryder Cup year. But he sat down with his coaches and then he won the Nordea Masters.
“At the start of that week he said ‘let’s just go and play golf and see what happens’ and he did that and won. Thinking about it doesn’t help, it’s just about playing good golf.
“My college coach always said good things come to those who play well so if I just take care of playing well, those things will come, hopefully.”
Paisley played college golf in America, at the University of Tennessee, where he won two events.
He also played on the 2008 winning St Andrews Trophy team for Great Britain and Ireland, while he’s already enjoyed victory over the US for Europe in 2009’s 13-11 Palmer Cup triumph.
And although he’ll hope to be part of another European triumph over America later this year, it’s the States he credits with helping him take his game to another level.
“There’s lots of factors,” he added.
“My game, I’ve worked really hard on it and it’s steadily improved. We’ve got a place in Orlando so I spent the winter practicing there, I think a lot of guys were over in Europe where the weather’s terrible and said they barely hit a ball over the last few months.
“I had a really good period of practice, six weeks where I could train really hard in the gym, my game and there’s a lot of pros in the area too so I was having a lot of competitive games and it got me really sharp.
“In past winters I’ve worked on my swing and technical aspects of the game, which is fine, but then I’ve come into the season feeling really rusty and generally start really poorly.
“So I made a conscious decision to make practice more competitive and finding ways to put pressure on myself and get the scoring and playing side of my game hotter and, obviously with the way I’ve started, it’s definitely paid off.”
While he undoubtedly found himself in more pressured situations during his trophy-laden career, Tiger Woods’ return to action at Torrey Pines last weekend would have been a painstaking challenge in itself.
Although he played in the Bahamas in December, Woods’ real litmus test was at the Farmers Insurance Open, as he stepped out for his first PGA Tour event in 12 months since returning from his fourth back surgery.
Golf had plenty of significant stories last week – from Rory McIlroy’s mini-comeback to Jon Rahm’s bid for the world No1 spot, and even the six-hole play-off eventually won by Jason Day – but none were more captivating than Tiger’s return to competitive action in California.
Despite playing the best part of his four rounds out of the rough, the 42-year-old still managed a formidable top-25 finish – his most promising result since finishing in a tie for third at the Wyndham Championship in 2015.
A three-under par 285 may not capture the attention of many golf fans, but on a tough course like Torrey Pines, Tiger’s formidable finish represents another significant tale on his recovery to full-fitness.
Although he missed 30 greens in regulation and posted 11 bogeys, Woods looked impressive when recovering to hit the ball on to the green.
It was the third time since August 2013 that he finished all four rounds at par or better in an official PGA Tour event.
Individual parts of his game like his ball striking need improving – he hit only 17 fairways – but it still proved to be a solid return for Woods.
His wedge and short iron game showed flashes of class – and if he can tighten up these areas further then it could represent a hugely positive year for the 14-time major winner. For a man who has been curtailed by injuries and given his tournament rustiness, his play around the green and putting were superb.
But no matter what he achieves going forward, he will always be Tiger Woods. He will always be that sports star who elevated golf to new heights. He will always be that guy who won the US Open by 15 shots in 2000. There will be greater players to hit the ball than Tiger, but none will leave a greater legacy on the game.
Woods’ next tournament will be at the Genesis Open on February 15 – and will generate the same attention when he steps out alongside Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. It’s difficult to know where his comeback is going, but as a fan, it is hard not to be in awe.
Li Haotong took home more than the Dubai Desert Classic championship trophy after four days of nail-biting golf at the Major of the Middle East.
A single stroke was enough to secure the title for the Chinese star, beating off stiff competition from Rory Mcillroy.
Haotong managed to birdie five of the last seven holes for a 69 and a tournament-record 23 under par.
Following his victory at the Dubai Desert Classic, which was held at the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club, Haotong became the first Chinese golfer to break into the world’s top 50. He’s now targeting a debut at The Masters in Augusta.
The victory earned the 22-year-old a trophy, winner’s cheque and an OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Master Chronometer watch.
OMEGA President and CEO Raynald Aeschlimann said: “I’m proud to sincerely congratulate Li Haotong on his win and for treating us all to such world class golf. It’s been a thrill from the first day to the last. OMEGA feels very honoured to be part of this fantastic event, which is a real highlight of the golfing year. This has been the perfect start to 2018 and I wish all the players a fantastic season ahead.”
The OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic has been a part of the European Tour since its inception in 1989. This is the ninth year that OMEGA has been the title sponsor.